He Who Laughs First
Late Comedy Of Errors
Grilled were dead set on washing all memories of their weekend catastrophe in a go, and the fourth round of the Singapore Cup presented none other than II.4 homies Joker 9. The Birds had reason to look forward to this match, having convincingly hammered the Jokers home and away when they were both in II.2 a couple of seasons back - but then, nobody had expected them to fare so horribly against Batok Earthquakes either.
Joker 9 hadn't strengthened much since those meetings, that said, and they won promotion from Division Three at a canter despite divesting themselves of a number of players, most prominently former national U-20 striker Tan Cheng Yao to Switzerland's FC SIEGERSHAUSEN, for close to S$13.5 million. South Korean head coach Jae-Jun Kim, who took over the reins soon after their relegation, turned out not to be much of a spender, which left former Bunnies starlet Ho Ah Kian once again as their biggest draw, for this fixture.
While the Jokers' own frailties on the backfoot were exposed badly against Ramseille Volliard FC on Sunday, this was never going to be the slow, tactical type, with all involved seemingly relieved just to be able to indulge in some proper flowing soccer. This in turn meant a superb outlook for goals, but Grilled turned out to be their own worst enemy, at least initially. Bilal Mohammad Harun
stumbled after a good first touch in the 12th minute, and allowed goalie Gert-Jan van Boshuizen to gather in the nick of time, and Bhavya Panigrahi
struck the bar on a penalty awarded after VAR confirmed Chow Puay Hui's inadvertent ball-to-arm.
The Birds were not about to let those misses get them down, and with Moey Xin Seng
taking especial care of Ho, Grilled had a certain margin of safety to spare. It was down to the others to make the most of their slight edge in possession, which Chan Ze Han
did in the 24th minute, after Dane Kim failed to keep a lookout before turning. Vikram Mudaliar
was onto him in a flash, Chan skipped a couple of tackles after being dealt the ball, and Gert-Jan van Boshuizen was neatly put out of the picture with a coolly-done drop of the shoulder.
Grilled were two up soon enough, as Kalki Parvathaneni
turned on the afterburners to overtake a sluggish-seeming Liew Hao Jun on a conservative backpass. Liew was clearly disgusted with himself for that one. Now, it wasn't that Joker 9 were totally starved of opportunities either, and Dimitri Bodde wasn't far off with his measured lob in the 31st. Massoud Dob
booted it right back downfield with the aid of a diligent ballboy, and Chow would be yellow carded for going in marginally late on Kalki. It was probably still a fair sacrifice, though, and Chu Xin Lee
swung the free-kick over everybody.
Most of the second half could have been fast-fowarded, as Grilled inexplicably forgot how to string more than four passes together, and Joker 9 returned the favour. The evidence didn't bode well for their future in the league, and perhaps only Kalki came out of this dull period with any credit at all, as he kept Liew more than honest at the back. Ho Ah Kian hadn't found any recourse as to Moey in the meantime, and the duo grimly cancelled each other's influence out.
The game finally reheated a little in the eightieth minute, as the ever-watchful Bilal Mohammad Harun
sprung a decent direct header from a corner, but it could well have been the only chance of the half, from how it was going. But then, it would suddenly all click together for Grilled; a lightning burst forward by Mudaliar saw Bernie Egan
set up for a sitter, and the former Singaporean national teamer then went it himself, and slipped past a cautious Chow Puay Hui to slam a fourth home.
The Joker bench didn't miss that both these goals could have been intercepted in the build-up, but they could do little more than mourn after the fact. The Birds were, with some justification, beginning to showboat, and Scottish veteran referee Thomas MacConachie didn't take kindly to Moey trying to angle for a free-kick, by throwing himself into a defender. An argument ensued as the Jokers played to the whistle, and the long-suffering Liew got something of his own back, as he converted Luo Haixiang's delivery for a consolation.
Grilled wouldn't settle down, though, and after Tay Woon Chun got another goal almost immediately as the Birds neglected to defend, extra time didn't seem that impossible after all. It was just as well that Bilal fired back when he did, and Gert-Jan van Boshuizen would have to kick himself for letting a strong but eminently-blockable long shot slip between his gloves.